Some of you may remember me from my post almost a year ago about how I was not a fan of the combat system in Stonehearth. Since then I have been thinking a lot about the feedback I got on that post and have come to some conclusions and would like to give my two cents again.
As this is a lengthy post I’ll add a summery here since I know most people don’t have time to read it all. Point 1 talks about story, point 2 talks about combat, and point 3 talks about items, specifically equipment.
1: In the March 13, 2018 desktop Tuesday there was a great deal of talk about the ‘story’ of Stonehearth and its world. Specifically, how the developers did not want to handcuff the player to a fixed narrative, so they could craft their own. To this I have something to point out. If you truly want the players to craft their own story they need more options. However, with options comes choices. With choices comes replayability. This means that there will be impossible to see the whole game in just one play through. This is already very true in the case of the biomes as the limited world size will ensure that you simply can’t get it all.
Now to my point. Why not apply this to the ‘story’ as well. While choosing your towns heritage, difficulty and biome (currently desert or forest) added another option that asked WHY the hearthlings are going out there. This would allow there to be a greater story within Stonehearth without handcuffing the player but rather offering them a clear choice. You would naturally have the option to play in a Sandbox style which would be how the game is heading now, get dropped in the world make your town. But you could easily add other options that would add dynamic simple quests, dungeons, loot, and maybe even bosses to help you craft your narrative. For example, there could be a ‘war’ setting which populates the world with 2-4 waring towns and the player must either trade, fight, or make alliances as their town grows. Another setting could be a ‘monster hunter’ type quest line where you are trying to purge the land of goblins and undead. And the best part is these two quest lines could use a lot of the same event and world generation code thus maximizing the time spent on them.
However, I think the biggest option that could be given to a player is to have an ending. With every story, there is an end, even if life goes on. There could even be a reward for finishing a quest session in that you get to choose some of your next starting team from the hearthlings in your current town. This idea alone opens so many story ideas with the player crafting their story around the children of the old homestead or even the next chapter in a specific hearthlings adventure saga. Maybe you could just make it so that players can save their favorite hearthlings to a sort of cloud and then pull them into other stories as heroes.
2: Every good story needs strife, suffering, failure, and of course our heroes rising above it all and looking awesome doing it. As such the monsters in Stonehearth are very important. From the annoying goblin thief to the mighty Titans [probably] we love mowing them down by the score or running away because we haven’t quite got our cleric book yet. And therein lies the problem. Combat really isn’t fun. Half the time I don’t even end up looking at it. The “invaders are approaching” will pop up and if I have more than two footmen and a cleric all I have to say is “Hmm, do I have enough stockpile space for their loot?”
I love this game and as someone who spent 3 years learning computers so I could bet certified A+ and Net+ I know that coding, especially game designed, is not easy. But combat kinda feels like background noise sometimes. The idea of Dungeons and Bosses are two features that have excited a lot of us. But both will drastically suffer from the current combat system. Now because I hate pointing out problems without offering any solutions here are mine, ranging from simple and effective, to the developers will never do it and I am a sadist for suggesting it.
A. Adding skills with cooldowns and mana bars to combat classes. Giving something as small as archers having a small AOE in the form of explosive arrows or even just a rain of arrows that the player can place would be huge! Knights give them a defense posture so instead of attacking they turtle up and soak damage. Footmen get a charge attack in a line that knocks over enemies and Clerics now have mana bars with a small aura of healing or a skill that heals in a burst. This would also make things friendly for future combat classes like a Geomancer.
The benefit to this is that weaker enemies will not require you to use skills. So, if there is a goblin raid you do not need to stop building to go deal with it. That said, something like an Ogre attack should never be something you just brush off to keep decorating.
B. Change combat to an action bar format with precise movement controls. Making it so that you have the option to micro units around while their individual action bars fill in order to doge or flank enemies adds a degree of strategy as positioning could let you mitigate damage so it falls on your shield, increase damage and critical hit chance by flanking, or even doge an attack altogether and kite a slow enemy. Once again, weak enemies, you don’t have to bother dropping what you are doing to go mess with. This and suggestion A can even be combined for some real RPG style combat.
C. Last, I would suggest scrapping combat as we know it and moving to something else entirely. For example, you could give the town a set perimeter in which hearthlings will not spark an encounter except for the infrequent case of raids. When an encounter starts you move to a combat system or some other instance away from normal gameplay. The crooks of something like this is that there are no small encounters. Each raid is infrequent but demands your attention and you need to go out and clear the land for your town to expand. In short, combat becomes a true event. While this does open the most options for scripted bosses it will stop the flow of the game and require much more programming.
3: This one will be a bit touch and go as I know the developers really want to stay away from micromanagement, however. Were there are epic stories and dungeons there is treasure. What kind of fantasy game does not have a singing +5 sword of great smiting and greater justice. Being able to individually equip your hearthlings with gear and special items would be huge. This would not only be for combat but what about giving workers backpacks, so they could carry more. Or herbalists belts so they could carry and distribute healing/buffing items. There could be crafted versions of these items and ones that need to be found or crafted with rare materials prompting exploration.
I would like to congratulate the dev team as the game’s development (specifically the fundamentals) have been coming along in leaps and bounds which has made me very excited (That room tool looks sweet!). I apologize if some of the things I am suggesting or pointing out are old news, I am in my last stretch of college and am out of touch with the world a bit. Also, please excuse grammatical errors its 4am and I’m not going to proof this.